From ACCM to sack 'em

The Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 is on our statute books but is not yet fully implemented. One wag has suggested that this is because the bishops, too, are subject to its provisions, but others speak of the preparatory work needed to set up the new tribunal system. Meanwhile, beneficed clergy still enjoy the right to a scrupulously fair hearing with a high standard of proof – before the Measure kicks in and a priest accused of ‘inappropriate’ conduct or ‘inefficiency’ may find his livelihood removed by majority verdict, on a mere balance of probabilities, in a private hearing, perhaps upon hearsay evidence.

But it is not all bad news. The licensed clergy, who at the moment can be summarily removed by the bishop for any cause appearing good and reasonable, will benefit. When the archbishops finally activate all the legislation’s provisions, the only way of proceeding against the licensed clergy will be through the disciplinary tribunals.

More hope for the unbeneficed is offered by the Review of Clergy Terms of Service (GS 1527). The Review Group recommends the security of ‘common tenure’ for clergy in non-freehold posts (with some exceptions, such as curates in training). That is, licences would no longer be revocable as at present, and loss of office would be subject to rights of appeal and the jurisdiction of the Employment Tribunal.

Yet there would be a cost, following ‘best human resource practice’. For common tenure, the Report makes clear, is conditional upon implementation of proposals about clergy responsibilities and accountability. This would include all clergy being required to participate in a diocesan ministerial review scheme. They also strongly urge the introduction of ‘capability procedures’ to help encourage us ‘provide an adequate ministry’, and to help our removal – even the beneficed – in the event of ‘unsatisfactory performance’. I’ve no problems with any of this, and am more than happy to meet performance targets, to be reviewed and assessed, and to strive for ever-increasing efficiency. When, that is, my paltry allowance which has to be topped up with state benefits and charity hand-outs, is changed into a professional’s salary. Security of tenure may come at a price. But so do capability and performance.

Jonathan Redvers Harris

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